Table tennis, diving, badminton maybe even swimming.... these are the sports that come to mind when you think of mainland Chinese athletes.... but rugby??
One is a small, athletic martial arts whiz studying at the elite Beijing Sports University, the other, a stocky, strongly built amateur soccer goalkeeper from the Tianjin province, southeast of Beijing. The national sport of a continent more than 2000+ miles south of their home country is what brought them together. Zhao Yonggen, 22, and Zhao Wei, 21 are now both co-captains of the Chinese National Team to compete in the international tournament in Melbourne.
While these guys aren't exactly stars (Zhao Yonggen pictured below), it's encouraging to know that the Melbourne Demons, one of the top teams in the Australian Football League (a variation on traditional rugby) has started to consider China as a serious untapped source of players.
While this game is unique to Australia, it has strong parallels and similarities to rugby and soccer (many players of this game are former soccer players) and an international tournament to be played in August and September in Melbourne, with teams including China, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, India, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, the United States and South Africa.
At first glance, two semi-talented Chinese players in Australian football isn't too much to rave about, even for a blog dedicated to Asians in professional sports... but there's a greater picture and message to this... the growing awareness and redirection of resources of individual sports towards the potential of mainland Chinese athletes. The New York Islanders and the Charles B. Wang outreach program, the NBA reaching out to China thanks to the success of Yao and Yi, the New York Yankees working with the Chinese Baseball Association
to trade coaching and conditioning services with each other and eventually sign some players to the American league and the Australian Football League....
Watch out Commissioner Goddell, we're comin.